Doctor shortages pushing Scottish NHS to ‘breaking point’

Doctor shortages are jeopardising patient safety and rota gaps are pushing the NHS to “breaking point”, Scottish physicians have warned.

A lack of doctors is pushing the NHS to breaking point it is claimed.
A lack of doctors is pushing the NHS to breaking point it is claimed.

A lack of doctors in NHS Scotland due to unfilled vacancies, sick leave and a shortage of staff is often putting patients’ welfare at risk, a survey of consultants has found.

More than a third of Scottish doctors (34 per cent) reported, in the Royal Colleges’ annual census, that trainee rota gaps occurred at least daily, while 16 per cent warned they are causing “significant patient safety problems”.

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A further 78 per cent of those who responded said rota gaps potentially cause patient safety problems, but that there are solutions in place.

Just 6 per cent reported that rota gaps had no impact on patient safety.

The survey of 5,826 doctors, published by the Edinburgh, Glasgow and London royal colleges of physicians, showed that the number of posts needing to be filled across the NHS significantly outnumbers the supply of physicians.

“This situation now risks plunging our profession into a downward spiral which contributes to further workforce shortages and rota gaps,” said Professor Jackie Taylor, the president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

Prof Taylor warned that the shortages are affecting both doctors and patients, and said: “The wellbeing of doctors is suffering because of the increased workforce pressures that we face.

“That’s why we urgently need a comprehensive plan to address the serious issues that this census raises, so we can reduce the stress that doctors are under and take steps to retain practitioners within the NHS.”

In Scotland, where there is currently one consultant doctor per 3,987 of the population, almost three-quarters of respondents (73 per cent) said that gaps or vacancies most negatively affected their work-life balance.

“This census provides the definitive picture of the state of the medical profession across the UK today,” Prof Taylor said.

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“It makes clear that, despite the commitment and professionalism of doctors up and down the country, the pressures that we face on a day-to-day basis are becoming more acute. These results show that we are now at breaking point.

“I look forward to using these results to continue our work to stand up for the medical profession and ensure that politicians and policymakers act now on the issues we’ve raised.”

Responding to the survey, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “NHS staffing remains at historically high levels, with consultant numbers increasing 49.3 per cent since 2006 while 190 extra medical undergraduates have been approved.”